In February, my husband and I put all other television aside to watch the Olympics. Our favorite binge-worthy shows, the ones we can’t wait to sit down after dinner and watch, are dead to us. I am one of those people who hates, despises, abhors cold weather. While everyone else is hoping for snow, I’m huddled miserably in the house wrapped up in a blanket, mug of hot cocoa in hand, waiting for spring, and yet I love watching these athletes do what they do best (even in the snow)!
It seems like every day during the Olympics, we hear a story about athletes who have suffered a devastating injury or traumatic life experience. They may have months, even years, of recovery ahead of them. Yet they work hard, train hard, and come back to the Olympics to fulfil their lifelong dream. After all, they only get a chance to participate every four years.
As bell ringers, we share that same dedication to our craft. Ringing bells isn’t just a hobby or pastime, something to do to get us out of the house on rehearsal night, it’s a passion. We love making beautiful (or sometimes not so beautiful!) music together, sharing our love of bells with others who love ringing, as well as with our congregations or our audiences.
So, what happens when we sustain a possible devastating injury? How do we come back from that to happily and healthfully ring again? In my case, it wasn’t an injury as much as it was just plain old arthritis. The Mayo Clinic website describes it as follows:
Thumb arthritis is common with aging and occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of the bones that form the joint at the base of your thumb — also known as the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint.
Thumb arthritis can cause severe pain, swelling, and decreased strength and range of motion, making it difficult to do simple tasks, such as turning doorknobs and opening jars. Treatment generally involves a combination of medication and splints. Severe thumb arthritis might require surgery.
Even though ringing wasn’t the cause of the problem, it certainly exacerbated it. In 2018, I received a cortisone shot in my thumb which took away the pain for about a year. I then got a splint and another cortisone shot, which lasted about another 18 months. My hand doctor told me that I was looking at surgery if I wanted to be forever pain-free.
Then Covid hit and suddenly there was no more bell ringing. The pain did come back however, and in late 2020, I went back to my hand doctor for advice. He was willing to give me another shot, but we discussed the surgery, and ultimately, I decided that because of Covid, I had plenty of time to recover and recuperate and so I opted for the surgery. On February 5, 2021, I had Carpal-Metacarpal (CMC) Arthroplasty, a fancy name for removing the small bone at the base of the thumb and replacing it with ligaments and synthetic material.
I won’t lie, the recovery was long and painful. The community group I ring with, The Metropolitan Bells, began meeting in the spring of 2021, ringing just for fun and re-honing our skills. In August, we began rehearsing our long-awaited Christmas season, as it had been two years since we had performed last. My strategy was to load up on ibuprofen before rehearsals, but I often went home in pain. Now, just a little over one year after the surgery, I finally feel like I’m back! There are still certain techniques that I have a little trouble with, since I don’t yet have the strength completely back in that hand. I can’t ring anything lower than a B4 and accept that I may never be able to ring lower than that. As a lover of treble bells, that’s not such a problem, right? Overall, I’m glad that I went through the process and don’t have to live with the pain that I had before the surgery.
After all, like Olympians, I think we all want to be able to perform our passions for as long as we are physically, mentally, and emotionally able.
Becky Price, Area 6 Treasurer